Saturday Series: 1 John 5:16-18 (continued)

1 John 5:16-18, continued

In the study last week, I noted the close parallel between 1 John 5:18 and 3:9. This strongly suggests that two verses are closely related, and that the later reference (in 5:18) may be used to explain further the meaning and force of the sin-reference in 3:9 (discussed at length in prior studies). The formal parallelism in wording, between the two statements, is readily apparent—the main clause being nearly identical in each:

    • “every (one) having come to be (born) of God…
      pás ho gegenn¢ménos ek toú Theoú

      • …does not do sin” (3:9a)
        hamartían ou poieí
      • …does not sin” (5:18)
        ouk hamartánei

Based on this close similarity, as noted above, it is fair to assume that the explanatory clauses which follow, in each reference, are also related. The hóti-clause in 3:9b is, again:

“…(in) that [hóti] His seed remains [ménei] in him”

This is the stated reason why the one having been born of God (i.e., the true believer) “does not sin”. It is because [hóti] God’s seed “remains” in the believer. The significance of the verb ménœ (“remain, abide”) in this context, within the Johannine theology, has been discussed extensively throughout these studies. Indeed, it is this distinctive use of the verb which serves as the basis for one of my proposals toward addressing the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John (see last week’s study and the one prior).

Now let us turn to the explanation provided by the author in 5:18:

“…but [allá] the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God keeps watch (over) him”

There is an ambiguity here of subject and (pronoun) object, much as there also is in 3:9b. However, the ambiguity in that earlier reference is much easier to decipher. Literally, the clause in 3:9b reads “his seed remains in him”. But, based on the context, and Johannine language, it is clear that this means “His [i.e. God’s] seed remains in him [i.e. the believer]”. The situation is not so straightforward in the case of 5:18, as nearly all commentators recognize. There are two main ways to explain the Greek syntax:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the Son, Jesus] keeps watch (over) him [i.e. the believer]
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) of God [i.e. the believer] keeps watch (over) himself

Some manuscripts read the reflexive pronoun heautón (“himself”), rather than the ordinary pronoun autón (“him”). Such a reading would provide confirmation for the second interpretation (above). However, even if the reading autón is regarded as original, the second interpretation is still possible, since the ordinary pronoun (i.e., autós, etc) can be used reflexively.

The parallel with 3:9 strongly favors the first option—namely, that Jesus, the Son (i.e., the one born of God), protects the believer. God’s “seed”, in the Johannine theological context, is best understood as the living Word (Logos) of God, who is the Son, abiding in the believer. God’s eternal Word is manifest, primarily, through the person of His Son. Alternatively, the “seed” may be understood as the Spirit of God; but this would differ little, in terms of the Johannine theology, since the believer’s abiding union with the Son (and the Father) is realized through the Spirit (3:24; 4:13). Moreover, since God Himself is Spirit (Jn 4:24), then also His Word is Spirit, and is experienced through the Spirit (cf. Jesus’ statement in Jn 6:63).

The problem with this interpretation of 5:18 is that the idiom “the one coming to be born of God”, using the substantive verbal noun (participle), of the verb gennᜠ(“come to be [born]”), followed by the preposition ek (“[out] of”, in the expression “of God” or “of the Spirit”), always refers to believers, not to Christ. The verb gennᜠis applied to Jesus in John 18:37, but in the context of his human birth, not to a Divine/spiritual birth as God’s Son. Moreover, the idea of believers guarding themselves from sin/evil, keeping themselves pure, etc, is not at all out of place in the context of 3:4-9, as the exhortation in 2:28-29 and 3:3 makes clear.

As it turns out, both lines of interpretation are quite valid—both in terms of the Johannine theology and the literary context of 1 John. Overall, the theological focus, along with the immediate parallel in 3:9, favors the first interpretation (i.e., the Son protects the believer), while Johannine usage (vocabulary and syntax) tends to favor the second interpretation (i.e., the believer guards him/herself). A third option is available, by way of a minority reading for the clause in 5:18

“…but the coming to be (born) [i.e., birth, génn¢sis] keeps watch (over) him”

that is to say, it is the very spiritual birth, the coming to be born (as God’s offspring), which protects the believer from sin. In some ways, this provides the closest parallel with 3:9b, since the idea of God’s “seed” being present, in the believer, generally corresponds to the idea of the believer’s birth (as His offspring). However, the textual (manuscript) evidence argues firmly against this reading, and it is adopted by few, if any, commentators today.

Possibly in favor of the first interpretation (that it is the Son who protects the believer) is the use of the aorist tense (for the participle), genn¢theís, rather than the perfect tense (i.e., gegenn¢ménos), which is typically used when referring to the birth of believers as God’s offspring. It has been suggested that the difference in tense here is meant to convey a certain distinction—viz., between the Son and believers. However, though this would make an attractive solution, it is precarious to based one’s interpretation on such slight evidence as the supposed distinction between tenses.

Even so, I am inclined to favor (slightly) the interpretation that understands the second participial expression as a reference to Jesus the Son (“the one born of God”), whose abiding presence protects the believer (“the one born of God” [first participle]) from sin and evil.

Continuing the comparison between 3:9 and 5:18, there is a comparable parallel between 3:9c and the final clause of 5:18. In each instance, the implications of the Divine protection, provided to the believer, are stated boldly. In 3:9c, we have (again) the difficult declaration (discussed previously):

“…and he is not able to sin, (in) that he has come to be (born) of God”

Essentially, this restates the declaration of v. 9a, giving a chiastic structure to the verse (cf. the outline in the earlier study). However, what is to be most noted is the absolute character of the declaration—that the true believer, the one “born of God”, is not able to sin. This compares with the corresponding clause in 5:18:

“…and the evil does not touch him”

Indeed, the statement that evil does not (or cannot) touch the believer is comparable to the statement that he/she is not able to sin. One should perhaps understand the substantive adjective (with the definite article) ho pon¢rós (“the evil”) as a personification or personal reference— “the evil one” (compare 2:13-14; 3:12; Jn 17:15), i.e., the Satan/Devil (see 3:8, 10), elsewhere called, in the Johannine writings, “the chief (ruler) [árchœn] of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Whether understood more abstractly, or as a person, this evil fundamentally characterizes “the world” (ho kósmos)—that is, the present world-order (especially at the end of the current Age), which is opposed to God, and is dominated by sin and darkness. The “antichrist” false believers (2:18-27; 4:1-6), the opponents whose views the author combats throughout 1 John, are part of this evil world. The thoroughness of this negative portrait of “the world” is made clear in verse 19, by way of a typical dualistic Johannine contrast:

“We have seen that we are of God [ek tou Theou], and (that) the whole world lies outstretched in the evil.”

Again “the evil”, as in v. 18, can be understood as “the evil one”. The expression “of God” is a shorthand for “having been born of God”, but it also implies, more generally, the idea that believers belong to God. In any case, “the world” is so thoroughly dominated by sin and darkness, that only through the abiding presence of God—His Spirit, Son, and Word—can we, as believers, be protected, so that the evil of the world “does not touch” us. It was as a result of the Son’s fulfillment of his mission, for which the Father sent him to earth, that the power of the world (with its sin and evil) has been overcome (Jn 12:31; 16:33; cf. 1 Jn 3:5, 8). Now believers are, and can be, victorious over the world, through the life and truth that the Son, through the Spirit, provides. This is an important emphasis in 1 John and a key part of the author’s exhortation (2:13-14, 15-17; 3:1; 4:4ff; 5:4-5). The contrast between believers and the world is a fundamental theme that runs through the Johannine writings.

Next week, we will bring this series of studies, on the Johannine view of sin, to a close. As part of this conclusion, some final comments on the ‘sin-problem’ in 1 John will be offered, along with a review of the pair of approaches to the problem which I have proposed.

 

 

July 13: 1 John 5:16-19 (8)

1 John 5:19

“We have seen that we are of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world lies in the evil.”

The section 5:13-20 concludes with a series of three exhortative declarations (vv. 18, 19, 20) that each begin with the verb form oi&damen (“we have seen”). The verbal usage reflects the sense of unity and solidarity that the author wishes to establish, between himself and his readers, as members together (“we”) of the Community of true believers. The translation “we have seen” is a literal rendering of oi&damen; however, the verb ei&dw can also mean “know,” being essentially interchangeable with ginw/skw. In English idiom, for the context here, oi&damen would be translated simply as “we know…”.

This use of oi&damen (also in v. 15 [twice]) reflects the author’s declaration of his intent (and purpose of writing) in v. 13, at the beginning of the section:

“These (thing)s I have written to you, that you might have seen [ei)dh=te, i.e. might know] that you hold (the) Life of the Age(s) [i.e. eternal life], to (you) the (one)s trusting in the name of the Son of God.” (cp. the end of the Gospel, 20:31)

It is also appropriate that the author effectively concludes his work emphasizing the fundamental theme of the contrast between true and false believers. This juxtaposition is part of a wider Johannine theme, contrasting believers with the world (o( ko/smo$). The negative sense of the noun ko/smo$ (“world-order, world”), as referring to the domain of darkness and evil (in which human beings are enmeshed) that is opposed to God, is distinctly Johannine, and the word tends to have this meaning throughout the Johannine writings. The contrastive relationship, between believers and the world, comes to be a dominant theme in the Gospel Last Discourse (chaps. 14-16), along with the Prayer-Discourse of chap. 17 (where ko/smo$ occurs 18 times, vv. 5-6, 9, 11, 13-16, 18, 21, 23-25). The usage in 1 John fully reflects the Johannine theological idiom—2:15-17; 3:1, 13; 4:1, 3-5; 5:4-5; only in 2:2; 3:17 is the more neutral sense of ko/smo$ emphasized (i.e., as the inhabited world of human beings), while both meanings are at work in 4:1, 3, 9, 14, 17.

Believers belong to God (as His offspring), while non-believers (and false believers) belong to the world (as children of the Devil [the “chief of this world”, Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]). That is the contrast being emphasized again here at the close of 1 John. On false believers (spec. the opponents in 1-2 John) as children of the Devil, see 3:8, 10; cp. Jn 8:41 (in the context of vv. 38-47).

Here in v. 19, the idea of believers as the offspring (te/kna) of God is expressed by the preposition e)k (“out of”), in the expression e)k tou= qeou= (“out of [i.e. from] God”), as a shorthand for the phrase “having come to be (born) [vb genna/w] out of God”. For this distinctive Johannine idiom in 1 John, cf. 2:29; 3:8-10; 4:4-7; 5:1, 4, 18; also 2:16ff, 21; 3:12, 19; 4:1-3; in the Gospel, cf. 1:13; 3:5-8, 31; 8:23, 41ff; also 15:19; 17:6, 14-16; 18:36, 37.

The idea that true believers belong to God, and not to the world, is seen most clearly in 4:4-6:

“You are of [e)k] God, (dear) offspring, and have been victorious (over) them [i.e. the ‘antichrists’, vv. 1-3], (in) that [i.e. because] the (One who is) in you is greater than the (one who is) in the world.” (v. 4)

As I have discussed, the expression “the (one) in you” (o( e)n u(mi=n) is best understood as a reference to the Spirit. God the Father is present, in and among believers, through His Son, and the Son abides in believers through the presence of the Spirit. By contrast, “the (one) in the world” (o( e)n tw=| ko/smw|) refers to the evil spirit of antichrist (v. 3) that is opposed to the holy Spirit of God. In v. 6, the evil spirit is called “the spirit of going/leading astray [pla/nh]”, in opposition to the “Spirit of truth [a)lh/qeia]”.

If the true believer (“you”) is described in v. 4, it is the false believer (“they”) who is referenced in v. 5:

“They are of [e)k] the world; through this [i.e. for this reason] they speak out of [e)k, i.e. from] the world, and the world hears them.”

In v. 6 (as here in 5:18-20), the author includes himself, together with his readers (“we”), as being among the true believers:

“We are of [e)k] God; the (one) knowing God hears us, (but) the (one) who is not of [e)k] God does not hear us.”

As noted above, this same language of belonging (using the preposition e)k), contrasting believers and the world, can be found in John 17—esp. verses 14-16, which are quite close in thought with what the author is saying here in 5:18-19 (cf. the previous note).

In v. 19a, the author repeats his declaration from 4:6: “we are of [e)k] God”. The implication, as in the references cited above, is that the author and his readers, correspondingly, are not “of [e)k] the world”. However, here the author states this in more general terms, by referring to the nature and condition of the world:

“…and the whole world lies in the evil”
kai\ o( ko/smo$ o%lo$ e)n tw=| ponhrw=| kei=tai

As in v. 18, as well as 2:13-14, 3:12 [1], and Jn 17:15, the substantive adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”), as a masculine noun with the article (o( ponhro/$, “the evil”), is best understood in a personal sense (i.e. “the evil one”), as a reference to the Satan/Devil. If so, then v. 19b needs to be translated something like:

“…and the whole world lies in (the hand of) the Evil (One)”

That the world, dominated as it is by darkness and evil, is under the control of the Devil (“Evil One”) is confirmed by the expression “the chief/ruler [a&rxwn] of this world” in Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11. Because believers do not belong to the world, they/we are not under the power of the Evil One. Indeed, through trust in Jesus, believers have obtained victory over the world (2:13-14; 5:4-5). The victory achieved by Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death (and exaltation)—cf. 3:8; Jn 12:31; 16:11, 33—is communicated to believers, in union with him, through the presence of the Spirit (4:4).

For this reason, the sin and evil of the world cannot touch the true believer (v. 18; cf. Jn 17:15). Even if we, as believers, may occasionally sin, through confession and forgiveness we are cleansed of all sin, with the result that the (eternal) life we possess from God is preserved/restored (1:7-2:2; 5:16).

In the next daily note, we will turn to examine briefly the author’s concluding statement in verse 20.

July 12: 1 John 5:16-19 (7)

1 John 5:18, concluded

Before proceeding to the final clause of 1 Jn 5:18 (c), let me summarize the results of the analysis in the previous note, regarding the interpretation of the difficult second clause (b). There would seem to be two options, for each of which a strong argument can be made in its favor:

    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. the believer] watches (over) him(self)”
      —the believer does this by keeping watch over God’s word that abides within, and by keeping (i.e. fulfilling) the two-fold command or duty (e)ntolh/) that God requires of all believers (3:23); cf. the other occurrences of the verb thre/w in 2:3-5; 3:22, 24; 5:3.
    • “the (one hav)ing come to be (born) out of God [i.e. Jesus the Son] watches (over) him”
      —God abides in and among believers through the presence of His Son (Jesus), and the Son is present in the believer through the Spirit; God, through His Son (and the Spirit), protects believers from sin and evil (cf. John 17:11ff).

Let us now turn to the final clause (18c):

“…and the evil (one) does not touch him”
kai\ o( ponhro\$ ou)x a%ptetai au)tou=

The adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”) occurs six times in 1 John—in five of which, as a substantive (masculine noun) with the definite article (2:13-14; 3:12 [1], and 5:19). Most commentators understand this expression in a personal sense,  “the evil (one),” referring to the Satan/Devil, called elsewhere “the chief/ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11); the same applies to the occurrence in Jn 17:15, which would seem to be close in meaning to v. 18 here:

“I do not request that you should take them out of the world, but that you would keep [thrh/sh|$] them out of [i.e. away from] the evil (one).”

Jesus’ prayer is that God the Father would protect the disciples (believers) from the evil of the world (and the Devil), once he can no longer be present with them (vv. 11-12). Ultimately, Jesus will continue to be present through the Spirit (14:17ff), and the protection God provides should be understood on that basis.

The verb a%ptw (“touch”) occurs elsewhere in the Johannine writings only (and famously) in Jn 20:17. The corresponding Hebrew verb ug~n` is frequently used in the context of a physical disease or ‘plague’ afflicting a person (whether as judgment from God or directly by an evil spirit); in the New Testament, a%ptw tends to be used (primarily in the Gospels) in the opposite sense—i.e., in the context of the healing (by the touch of Jesus) from disease.

Here the “touch” is not one that results in disease and physical death, but, rather, which leads to sin and evil (and thus to eternal death). The influence of the world (ko/smo$, in the starkly negative sense) and its chief (the Devil) is clearly in view. The wicked (non-believers and false believers) belong to the world, while true believers belong to God, having been born from Him (vv. 18-19). Belonging to the world, moreover, means that a person effectively has the Devil as his/her father, having been born from him (3:8, 10, 12ff; cf. Jn 8:19, 42-47). The world is dominated by darkness and evil (Jn 3:19, etc), a point that is emphasized by the author here in verse 19 (to be discussed in the next daily note).

Is it possible to decide between the two ways of interpreting the central clause in v. 18b (outlined above)? The arguments seem to be equally strong on either side. On the one hand, the usage of the verb genna/w in the Johannine writings strongly favors the idea that the substantive participle (o( gennhqei/$) refers to the believer. On the other hand, the Johannine theology, together with the similar use of the verb thre/w in John 17, is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that it is Jesus the Son who protects the believer.

It would seem appropriate if one could somehow combine these two lines of interpretation. One might do so as follows:

The one born of God [i.e. the believer, as God’s offspring] is kept safe from evil through union with Jesus [God’s Son]. It is his abiding presence, through the Spirit, that allows the believer to be victorious over both the world and the evil one (2:13-14; 4:4; 5:4f); and God the Father is Himself present through the Son, and He is ultimately the one protecting believers (Jn 17:11, 15, cf. above). God’s seed, which is best understood in terms of His life-giving Spirit, abiding in believers, keeps them from sin (3:9). The “seed”-concept can apply equally to the person of Jesus Christ—whether in terms of God’s living Word (lo/go$), or as God’s Son—who abides in and among believers through the Spirit. The victory and protection believers have over sin and evil (and the Evil One) comes through the mediation of Jesus Christ (3:8; cf. 1:7ff).

 

Notes on Prayer: John 17:13-15

John 17:13-15

As we continue through the Prayer-Discourse of Jesus (Jn 17) in these Notes on Prayer, we come to what we might call the exposition portion of the first section of the Prayer proper. Keep in mind the basic format of the Johannine Discourses of Jesus, of which this Prayer shares many features in common (thus the designation “Prayer-Discourse”):

    • Saying/statement by Jesus
    • Reaction to those listening to him—his disciples, etc
    • Exposition by Jesus, in which he explains the true/deeper meaning of his saying

This being a prayer (monologue) by Jesus, there is no reaction by the disciples (indicating their lack of understanding, etc, as throughout the Last Discourse); instead, we find the important theme of the needs of the disciples in the face of Jesus’ impending departure (back to the Father). And, in place of the traditional/core saying by Jesus that serves as the base for the Johannine Discourse, we have here the central petition by Jesus (to the Father), which I define as comprised of verses 9-11. There are many ways of outlining the Prayer-Discourse; here I suggest the following:

    • Invocation—introductory address to the Father (vv. 1-5)
    • Narration—summary of the Father’s work which he (the Son) completed on earth (vv. 6-8)
    • Petition—the central request made to the Father (vv. 9-11)
    • Exposition, Part 1: Application to Jesus’ immediate Disciples (vv. 12-19)
    • Exposition, Part 2: Application to All Believers (vv. 20-26)

I discussed the elements of the petition in the previous two notes (on vv. 9-10 and 11-12, respectively). Verse 12 is transitional, in that it picks up the primary theme of the petition and carries it forward into the exposition. Again, because of the prayer setting, the exposition by Jesus takes on a different tone compared with the Discourses. It also has a triadic structure which follows the pattern of the Prayer as a whole:

    • Narration—summary of the work done by the Son on earth (vv. 12-14)
    • Petition—restatement of the central request (v. 15)
    • Theological/Christological Exposition (vv. 16-19)

We can see how verse 12 serves as the hinge, joining the main petition to the expository narration, by the syntax in verse 13:

12When I was with them, I kept watch (over) them in your name that you have given to me, and I guarded (them), and not one out of them went to ruin…
13 But now [kai\ nu=n] I come toward you, and I speak these things in the world, (so) that they would have my delight filled (up) in themselves.”

The particles kai\ nu=n (“and now”), also used at the start of verse 5, establish the current/present situation that Jesus is addressing. In last week’s study, I discussed the double meaning of the expression “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw=|). In verse 11, Jesus specifically states that he is not (ou)ke/ti, “not yet, no longer”) in the world; and yet now he indicates that he is in the world. The ambiguity has to do with the position of his disciples (believers). On the one hand, they/we do not belong to the world and are not in it (“out of the world”); but, at the same time, they/we remain present in the world and are thus in it, facing the evil and hostility of the current world-order. The latter aspect is what Jesus is referring to in verse 13—even though he is not “in the world” (and is about to leave it, returning to the Father), he still speaks to his disciples (and all believers) “in the world”. The words he speaks—the Last Discourse sequence, including the Prayer-Discourse itself—are primarily intended to give help and comfort to his disciples, along the lines indicated in 14:27ff; 15:11; 16:20ff, 33. This comfort includes the promise of the coming of the Spirit (the para/klhto$, or ‘Helper’), and is central to the idea of Jesus own delight (xa/ra) being “filled” (peplhrwme/nhn) in (e)n) the disciples.

In verse 14, the theme of the contrast between Jesus/Believers and the world (ko/smo$, world-order), found throughout the Last Discourse (and in vv. 6ff), is likewise developed further:

“I have given [de/dwka] to them your word [lo/go$], and the world hated them, (in) that [i.e. because] they are not out of [e)k] the world, even as I am not am not out of [ou)k] the world.”

There are four parts, or phrases, to this statement, each of which delineates an important related theme in the Johannine Discourses. Let us consider each of them briefly:

1. “I have given to them your word” (e)gw\ de/dwka au)toi=$ to\n lo/gon sou). This continues the repeated use of the verb di/dwmi (“give”) throughout the Prayer (cf. the discussion in the previous studies) and emphasizes the relationship between Father and Son: God the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), who, in turn, gives to his disciples (believers). The “word” (lo/go$, used many times, with deep significance, in the Gospel) relates to the idea that the Son faithfully repeats what he sees and hears the Father doing and saying. But there is an even greater theological (and Christological) idea involved—that Jesus (the Son) reveals the person, presence, and power of God the Father Himself. In the context of the Prayer, the “word” Jesus gives to his disciples is parallel to the “name” which he makes known—and which was given to him by the Father. It is the Father’s own name, representing and embodying the Father (YHWH) Himself. So it is with the lo/go$; it is no ordinary “word” (cf. 1:1ff).

2. “and the world hated them” (kai\ o( ko/smo$ e)mi/shsen au)tou/$). The dualistic contrast between the “world” (ko/smo$) and God/Jesus/Believers is one of the central themes of the Johannine writings (Gospel and Letters), and is especially prominent in the Last Discourse. The wickedness and outright hostility of the world is the very reason (causa) for Jesus’ petition to the Father. Since he is departing the world, he will no longer be present himself to protect his disciples from this hostility and opposition. The hatred (vb. mise/w), of course, is exactly the opposite of the love (a)ga/ph) which is so vital to Jesus’ teaching in the Disourses, and to Johannine theology as a whole. The theme of love will come into more prominence at the close of the Prayer.

3. “(in) that [i.e. because] they are not out of the world” (o%ti ou)k ei)si\n e)k tou= ko/smou). Just as there is a double meaning for the expression “in the world” (e)n tw=| ko/smw|), so there is for the parallel expression “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou). In verse 6, Jesus’ disciples are said to be “out of the world” in the sense that they do not belong to the world, and have been chosen (and taken) out of it as believers in Christ. Yet here they are said to be not “out of the world” in that they are not from it. This plays on the semantic range of the preposition e)k (“out of, of, from”), but the essential meaning is the same: Jesus’ disciples (believers) do not belong to the world.

4. “even as I am not out of the world” (kaqw\$ e)gw\ ou)k ei)mi\ e)k tou= ko/smou). Here we find a theme which will be developed richly in the remainder of the Prayer: the unity of believers with Jesus himself. This unity is made clear by the compound particle kaqw/$ (“even as, just as”), along with the emphatic pronoun “I” (e)gw/). Believers come from God the Father, having their birth/origins with Him, even as Jesus himself (the Son) does; they do not belong to the world any more than Jesus himself does. Classic Christian theology would explain this as being the result of faith in Jesus; the Johannine emphasis, however, is somewhat different—believers respond in faith to Jesus because they/we have (already) been chosen, belonging to the Father even before coming to faith, and given to Jesus (the Son) by the Father Himself. In classic terms, the emphasis is squarely on Divine Election/Predestination.

This expository narrative sets the stage for a restatement in verse 15 of Jesus’ petition to the Father, in which the danger believers face from the world (ko/smo$) is stated vividly (and bluntly):

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but (rather) that you would keep watch (over) them out of [i.e. protect them from] the evil.”

Here we find a third sense of the expression “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou)—the concrete sense of a person being taken (removed) from out of the world itself. This is significant on two levels: (a) the ordinary human condition (i.e. living on earth), and, more importantly, (b) in relation to the wickedness and evil present in the world, dominating the current world-order. This is the thrust of the second half of verse 15: “…but that you would keep watch (over) [i.e. protect] them out of [i.e. from] the evil”. Commentators debate the precise meaning of the substantive adjective (“the evil”, o( ponhro/$), much as in the similar petition of the Lord’s Prayer (cf. below). It may be understood three ways:

    • Evil generally, with the definite article perhaps in the sense of “that which is evil”
    • “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan or ‘Devil’
    • “the evil (of the world)”, i.e. the evil that is in the world and which dominates it

Many commentators prefer the second interpretation, often taking it for granted; however, I do not agree with that position. In my view the context overwhelming favors the third sense above. Two factors, I believe, confirm this rather decisively:

    1. The clear parallel, both thematic and syntactical, between “the world” and “the evil”. The contrast in the verse only makes sense if “the evil” means the evil in the world, or the evil nature/character of the world, etc.:
      “I do not ask that you take them out of the world (itself), but (only) that you keep them out of the evil (that is in it)”
    2. The exact parallel of expression which reinforces this meaning:
      “out of the world” (e)k tou= ko/smou)
      | “out of the evil” (e)k tou= ponhrou=)

This is not to deny the prominent role that the Satan/Devil has in the current world-order (ko/smo$). It is entirely valid, and certainly so from the New Testament and early Christian standpoint, to see evil personified (and/or as a person) this way. The most relevant passage in the Gospel of John is found in the Last Discourse—Jesus’ declaration in 14:30 (note certainly similarities of thought and wording with 17:12-15ff):

“No longer [ou)ke/ti] will I speak with you (about) many (thing)s, for the chief/ruler of the world comes, and he holds nothing in/on me…”

Consult also the lengthy Sukkoth Discourse sequence in 8:12-59, in which Jesus more or less equates the world and the Devil, and sets them in marked contrast with God the Father. In this regard, there is an obvious parallel between the petition in 17:15 and that which concludes the Lord’s Prayer, in the Matthean (and longer Lukan) version:

“and may you not bring us into testing, but (rather) rescue us from the evil” (Matt 6:13)

As I argue in the earlier study on this verse, in the Lord’s Prayer, the substantive expression “the evil” is best understood in an eschatological sense—i.e. the evil that is coming—which had at least a partial fulfillment in the suffering and death of Jesus (cp. Mark 14:33-38, 41 par; Lk 22:53), and which, in turn, ushered in a period of suffering and persecution for believers (Mk 13:5-13; 14:27, 41 par; Lk 22:36-37; Rev 3:10, etc). In the Gospel of John, traditional eschatological motifs and ideas are presented in a ‘realized’ form—i.e. as a present reality for believers, and for the world (in terms of Judgment, etc). In this regard, the emphasis in 17:15 is not on the evil that is coming (beginning with Jesus’ Passion, cp. 13:30; 14:30), but on the evil that is ever-present in the world, and which believers must face daily. This prayer for protection from the evil that governs the world finds a most striking parallel in the First Letter of John, at the conclusion (5:18-19), a passage which further explains 17:9-15 from the standpoint of Johannine theology:

“We see [i.e. know] that every (one) having come to be (born) out of [e)k] God does not sin, but (rather) the (one) coming to be (born) out of God keeps watch [threi=] (over) him, and the evil [o( ponhro/$] does not attach (itself to) him. We see that we are out of [e)k] God, and (that) the whole world [ko/smo$] is stretched (out) in the evil [e)n tw=| ponhrw=|].”

This declaration virtually contains a fulfillment of what Jesus requests of the Father in chapter 17. We can also determine, based on the evidence from both the Gospel and Letter, how it is that the believer is protected from the evil that dominates the world. It is the living presence of Christ (the one born out of God) in the believer (like Jesus, born out of God), and it is through the Spirit that He is present. For more on this, please consult the series “…Spirit and Life” [Jn 6:63] soon to be posted here on this site.

In next week’s study, we will move on to explore verses 16-19, and, in particular, the newly formulated petition in v. 17, which gives greater clarity to the protection God the Father will provide for Jesus’ disciples. It will confirm the relation of this protection to the promise of the Spirit/Paraclete found at key points in the Last Discourse and elsewhere in the Gospel.

March 16: Matthew 6:13b (continued)

(This Monday Note on Prayer continues the current series of daily notes on the Lord’s Prayer.)

Matthew 6:13b, continued

In the previous note, I discussed the adjective ponhro/$ (“evil”) and how it is used in the Gospel of Matthew, and, especially, in the Sermon on the Mount. This helps us to understand better its significance here in the Prayer. I laid out five possible lines of interpretation, each of which requires that we take full account of the contrastive parallel between peirasmo/$ (ei)$ peirasmo/n, “into testing”) and ponhro/$ (a)po\ tou= ponhrou=, “from the evil”). These lines of interpretation encompass three basic semantic domains for the word ponhro/$ in the context of the Prayer (and the Sermon):

    • The evil we (i.e. Jesus’ disciples) experience generally, in various ways, during our daily life; this includes sin, misfortune, mistreatment, and persecution (on account of our faith).
    • Specifically the sin and wickedness to which we are tempted by “the Evil One”.
    • The evil which dominates the current Age, manifest especially in the coming suffering and distress (for Jesus’ disciples) at the end-time.

Arguments can be made for all three spheres of meaning:

    • The use of ponhro/$ in the Sermon favors the first option, as it tends to characterize the evil of humankind generally, and the wicked/evil things they do.
    • The common sense of peirasmo/$ as “temptation” (i.e. to sin) would favor the second option, along with the translation of o( ponhro/$ here as “the Evil (One)”, supported by 13:19, 38, and (possibly) 5:37 in the Sermon.
    • In a prior note (on v. 13a), I argued that peirasmo/$ here is best understood in terms of the (eschatological) suffering and distress which Jesus’ disciples will (or may) have to endure. The Synoptic parallels with Jesus’ words in the garden during his Passion strongly point in this direction, as do the eschatological aspects of the Prayer (discussed previously).

Is it possible that ponhro/$ here has a broad significance encompassing all three ranges (or areas) of meaning? While such a possibility ought to be considered, I would still tend to favor the third option above, for a number of reasons:

    1. The eschatological aspect, or dimension, of the Prayer is preserved
    2. It makes better sense of the idea of God bringing believers “into testing”, especially in light of the parallels with Jesus’ words in Mk 14:36, 38 par
    3. It also provides a better context for the idea of God rescuing believers and very much corresponds with the New Testament (esp. Pauline) use of the verb r(u/omai (cf. below)
    4. Its climactic position in the Prayer requires something which matches the Kingdom of God the Father, etc, in the opening petitions.

This line of interpretation is, I believe, clinched by an examination of the verb r(u/omai used in the phrase. While often translated “deliver”, it more properly means “protect”, sometimes in the more active (and dramatic) sense of rescuing one from harm or danger. Unfortunately, it hardly occurs at all in the Gospels; indeed, it is only found here in the sayings and teachings of Jesus. The only other Gospel occurrences are in Luke 1:74 (the Hymn of Zechariah) and in Matthew 27:43. That latter reference, being from the Gospel of Matthew (and the only other occurrence in Matthew), is significant and must be given serious consideration. It is part of the taunts directed at Jesus (by the priests and elders, etc) while he is on the cross:

“He trusted upon God, (so) let Him rescue [r(usa/sqw] him now if He wishes—for he said that ‘I am (the) Son of God’!”

The context clearly is the same as that of Jesus’ Passion prayer in the garden (Mk 14:36ff par), and the idea is that God might rescue Jesus from his moment of suffering (and death). The reference in Luke 1:74 touches upon the more concrete idea of being rescued from the control of one’s enemies. While this differs from the immediate situation in Matthew, it fits the language and imagery used by Paul in his letters, where the majority of occurrences of the verb are to be found—12 instances, including several in letters sometimes considered pseudonymous by critical commentators (Colossians, 2 Timothy). The verb is used two primary ways in the Pauline letters:

  1. References to Paul (and his fellow missionaries) being rescued (by God) from his enemies and opponents, persecution, dangers and perils on the way, etc—Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 1:10 [3 times]; 2 Thess 3:2; also 2 Tim 3:11; 4:17f.
  2. In a soteriological sense—i.e. of God rescuing believers from the power of evil that is at work in the world; this is expressed several ways, with different points of emphasis:
    (a) Rom 7:24: From the power of sin that currently dominates humankind, residing in the flesh—”who will rescue [r(u/setai] me out of this body of death?”
    (b) Rom 11:26: From the wickedness and ungodliness in the world, which currently envelops Israelites along with the rest of humanity (citation of Isa 59:20f): “the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] will arrive out of Zion…”
    (c) 1 Thess 1:10: From the coming (end-time) Judgment by God upon the world (in its wickedness): “…Yeshua, the (one) rescuing [r(uo/meno$] us out of [i.e. from] the coming anger (of God)”.

The last two references have a strong eschatological and Messianic emphasis, shared by both early Christians and many Jews of the period: that the Anointed One (Messiah, according to several figure-types) will appear at the time of Judgment to rescue the faithful of God’s people from both the wickedness in the world and God’s Judgment upon it (see also 2 Pet 2:7, 9). Paul had a very unique way of expressing this idea, which he develops in Galatians and (more fully) in Romans (cf. especially chapters 5-8). Through the person and work of Jesus, God has rescued humankind (believers) from the power of sin (and evil) which currently dominates the world. Two additional passages, reflecting this outlook, are especially relevant to the wording in the Lord’s Prayer:

1. In Col 1:13, Paul refers to God the Father as the One

“who rescued [e)rru/sato] us out of the authority [e)cousi/a] of darkness and set us over into the Kingdom of his (be)loved Son”

The identification of evil with “darkness”, as a kind of kingdom in opposition to the Kingdom of God, matches the language and thought of both the Lord’s Prayer and the garden scene of Jesus’ Passion (cf. the previous note). In the Lukan parallel of the garden scene, Jesus’ declares the situation surrounding his Passion (and impending death) in exactly these terms: “…this is your hour and the authority of darkness” (Lk 22:53). According to the earliest Christian thought, the death and ultimate departure of Jesus ushers in an (eschatological) period of suffering and distress, which precedes the coming Judgment. It will be a time of significant suffering and persecution for Jesus’ followers (Mk 13:9-13 par, etc).

2. In 2 Tim 4:17-18, the idea of Paul (and other missionaries) being rescued from wicked people and opponents (v. 17, and cf. above) is broadened to include the end-time deliverance in general, expressed in v. 18 as follows:

“The Lord will rescue [r(u/setai] me from every evil work and will save [i.e. preserve] me into His Kingdom upon [i.e. above] (the) heaven(s).”

The italicized words are very close to the petition in the Lord’s Prayer:

    • “(may you) rescue us from the evil [a)po\ tou= ponhrou=]”
    • “(he will) rescue me from every evil work [a)po\ panto\$ e&rgou ponhrou=]”

There is one other passage in the New Testament which may shed some light on Matt 6:13—namely, John 17:15, where we find another prayer by Jesus to God the Father. This time it is a petition to the Father on behalf of Jesus’ disciples; it is also set prior to Jesus’ Passion (on this context, see above and the previous note). He prays for his disciples as follows:

“I do not ask that you should take them out of the world, but that you should guard them out of [i.e. from] the evil [tou= ponhrou=].”

The genitive substantive (tou= ponhrou=) is the same as we have in the Lord’s Prayer; here, too, it is often translated “the Evil (One)”, but this does not seem correct to me. More appropriate in context would be “the evil (that is in the world)”, since the contrast is with “the world” or “world-order” (ko/smo$). Believers are not to be taken out of the world itself, but protected from the evil that is in it.

In summary, I would argue that it is best not to translate the substantive ponhro/$ in the Lord’s Prayer as “the Evil (One)”, but to adhere to the more literal rendering “the evil”. The reference, in my view, is primarily to the evil that dominates the current Age, the experience of which is to intensify as the end-time Judgment comes near. This idea of evil certainly includes the figure of the Satan/Devil/Belial, as the world-ruler who exercises dominion over the current wicked Age. This worldview, and its eschatological/Messianic dimension, is expressed in dozens of texts from Qumran (where the Prince/Spirit of Darkness is called “Belial”), and was more or less shared by Christians in the first century A.D. The prayer for protection/rescue from the power of evil in the world unquestionably means protection from the Evil One who is the effective world-ruler of the current Age of darkness. Much of this worldview, admittedly, is lost for Christians today; this does not change the fact that it governed much Jewish and early Christian thought at the time, and needs to be recognized in any serious study of the New Testament today. How it relates to current/modern views of eschatology is a separate issue, but one which also is vital as a point of discussion.

This study of the Lord’s Prayer will be concluded in the next daily note.

March 15: Matthew 6:13b

Matthew 6:13b

The final petition in the Matthean version of the Lord’s Prayer, while present in the majority of manuscripts of Luke, is absent a diverse range of witness, including some of the earliest and best manuscripts (Ë75 a*2 B L f1 700 pc vg, and segments of the Syriac and Coptic tradition). As with the other parts of the Prayer where a shorter Lukan version is attested, the longer form is almost certainly secondary, representing a scribal harmonization (to Matthew), of the sort we see frequently in the manuscript tradition. Here the text-critical axiom lectio brevior potior (“the shorter reading is preferable”) holds good. This (final) petition in Matthew (followed by the Didache) reads:

a)lla\ r(u=sai h(ma=$ a)po\ tou= ponhrou/
alla rhusai h¢mas apo tou pon¢rou
“but may you rescue us from the evil”

An Aramaic original, insofar as it valid to reconstruct, might be something like:

av*ya!B= /m! an`l=X#a^ <r^B=
b§ram °aƒƒéln¹° min b§°îš¹°
(cf. Fitzmyer, p. 901)

From the standpoint of the Matthean structure of the Prayer, it is better to consider this line as part of the previous petition (cf. the prior note). This is indicated by the contrastive/adversative particle a)lla/ (“but, rather”), establishing a contrast with the previous request, which had been negative (i.e., what God should not do); here is the corresponding positive request:

    • “May you not bring us into testing
      • but (rather) may you (instead) rescue us from the evil”

The main interpretive difficulty involves the precise meaning of the word ponhro/$ (“evil”). There are three question which must be addressed:

    1. Whether the article here is masculine or neuter
    2. The force of the definite article, and
    3. The nature of the “evil” referred to in the context of the Prayer

Each of these will be dealt with in turn. First, it is worth noting that the adjective ponhro/$ is much more frequent in Matthew than in the other Gospels. Mark has it (twice) in just one tradition (7:22-23), while it occurs just three times in John (3:19; 7:7; 17:5). It is a bit more common in Luke (12 times), with another 8 occurrences in Acts. By comparison it appears 25 times in Matthew, including 8 in the Sermon on the Mount; 5 of the 12 Lukan occurrences are in the parallel “Sermon on the Plain”. Overall, the adjective appears to be distinctive of the sayings of Jesus in the so-called “Q” material—sayings and traditions found in both Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

1. The word with definite article is a substantive adjective (i.e. functioning as a noun), but the particular genitive form tou= ponhrou= is ambiguous in terms of gender: it can either be masculine or neuter. It is helpful to consider first the other 7 occurrences of the adjective in the Sermon on the Mount. It modifies masculine nouns in 5:45; 6:23; 7:11, 17-18—”man” (a&nqrwpo$ [implied]), “eye” (o)fqalmo/$), and “fruit” (karpo/$). In all these instances the adjective is used to describe the character of human beings, their attitude and actions. The same is probably the case in 5:39, where the substantive use (with the definite article) most likely refers to the person doing evil, rather than the evil itself. In 5:37 the substantive genitive tou= ponhrou= has the same ambiguity we see in here in the Prayer. The only certain occurrence of the neuter is in 5:11, where it refers to evil that is spoken against Jesus’ disciples. This neuter usage is similar to the plural substantive in Mark 7:23 (“these evil [thing]s”). Thus, it would appear that it is more common in the Sermon to use the adjective as characteristic of a person, rather than a reference to evil itself.

2. An interesting question is whether the definite article simply reflects a substantive use of the adjective (as a noun) generally, or whether it refers to evil in a specific sense. This will be discussed further under point #3 below. However, it is worth keeping in mind the parallel with the noun peirasmo/$ (“testing”); the rhythm and structure of the petition is aided by the inclusion of the definite article—peirasmo/$/o( ponhro/$—creating two nouns at the center of the contrast: “into testing” vs. “(away) from the evil”. But perhaps true definiteness is intended here as well, and meant to be emphasized, i.e. “the evil”. If so, then there are several possible meanings:

    • The evil which we experience or which comes upon us, specifically as sin, in the course of our life on earth
    • The (power of) evil which dominates the current Age, or, in an eschatological sense, is coming upon the world
    • The Evil One—the personification of evil, or the person most characterized by evil and responsible for it, i.e. the figure known as the Satan (/f*c*[h^]), dia/bolo$ (‘Devil’), or Belial (cf. 2 Cor 6:15 and the Qumran texts).

If we look at other occurrences in Matthew where the adjective is used with a definite article, we see that it is used two ways: (1) for specific person(s) who are evil, and (2) for the specific evil things a person says and does. There are actually two sections where these references occur: the teaching in 12:33-37 (cp. 7:15-20 and Mk 7:21-23), and the Kingdom parables in chapter 13. An examination of these is instructive.

  • Matt 12:35 presents a contrast between the person who is good and the one who is evil:
    “The good man casts out good (thing)s out of the good treasure (of his heart), and the evil man [o( ponhro/$ a&nqrwpo$] casts out evil (thing)s [ponhra/] out of the evil treasure [e)k tou= ponhrou= qhsaurou=] (of his heart).”
    This wording echoes that of 5:37 in the Sermon and may provide the context for the more ambiguous expression there:
    “And (so) your account must be “Yes, yes” (and) “no, no”, and the thing over (beyond) these (words) is [i.e. comes] out of the evil [e)k tou= ponhrou=].”
    It is often assumed that “the evil” that brings about the oath here is “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Devil; however, the parallel in 12:35 suggests that it may actually refer to the evil (treasure) that is in a person’s heart.
  • By contrast, twice in chapter 13, in Jesus’ explanation of both the parable of the Sower and of the Weeds (vv. 19, 38), the expression o( ponhro/$ (“the evil”) almost certainly does refer to “the Evil (One)”, i.e. the Satan. The evil human beings (“the evil [one]s”) who are separated from the good at the Last Judgment (v. 49) reflect the character of the Evil One himself, even as Jesus’ faithful disciples reflect the character of God Himself (cf. 5:48, etc).

3. Now let us consider further the use of o( ponhro/$ (or to\ ponhro/n) in the context of both the Lord’s Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount. As documented above, the adjective serves the dualistic contrast present in Jesus’ teaching—that is, as a way of characterizing persons who do not follow his teaching, and who act and think in a way that does not reflect God the Father in Heaven. This continues the dualism we noted in earlier parts of the Prayer, especially in the opening petitions which emphasize God the Father as the One in the heavens. Jesus’ true disciples are those who, by following his teaching and example, actually do the will of God here on earth, even as it is done in heaven. The opposite of God’s will on earth is the presence and manifestation of wickedness and evil, which characterizes much (if not the majority) of humankind (cf. 7:11). Most people act and think in an earthly manner, seeking after earthly (and not heavenly) things. This is a fundamental principle that runs through the Sermon and establishes the contrast for how Jesus disciples are supposed to conduct themselves in their daily life (on earth). At the same time, there is an eschatological dimension, to both the Sermon and the Prayer, which emphasizes the coming Judgment and also the suffering and persecution Jesus’ followers will face on earth from the wicked and the forces of evil.

With all of this in mind, it is time to set forth several lines of interpretation for the phrase a)po\ tou= ponhrou= (“from the evil”) in this petition of the Prayer; bear in mind that each interpretation must also take into account the parallel expression “into testing” (ei)$ peirasmo/n):

  1. The evil we experience, in terms of sin and the temptation to commit sin (understanding peirasmo/$ here as “temptation”).
  2. The evil we experience (from others), and to which we must respond and endure–understood generally as mistreatment and persecution; here the “testing” involves our response to such mistreatment, following Jesus’ own instruction in the Sermon.
  3. The “testing” is temptation (which God allows), and “the Evil One” (i.e. Satan/Devil/Belial) is the one who tempts us to follow the way of evil along with the rest of humankind.
  4. The “testing” is the suffering and distress which Jesus’ followers experience on earth, and the evil is that which dominates the current Age (under the control of the Evil One).
  5. A variation of (d) gives greater emphasis to the eschatological context of the Prayer—i.e. the suffering/distress which is coming upon the world, and especially upon Jesus’ followers in the form of persecution and the danger of being deceived, falling from faith, etc.

In the next note I will discuss these options further, along with what it means to be “rescued” by God from this evil.

These notes on the Lord’s Prayer commemorate the start of the new feature “Monday Notes on Prayer” on this site.